- BIG GAME SHOOTING.
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- Black Widow Murders (Jim Richards Murder Novels Book 12).
- The Lion's Circle.
They were to be counted only by tens of thousands. Formerly, they used often to invade the northern outlying farms of the Boers, and destroy their crops; and though shot in waggon-loads, they would still hang about as long as there was a green blade of anything.
We were at breakfast, when far down on the south-east horizon I noticed a wreath as of dark smoke rising rapidly, broadening as it advanced. In a very short time it enveloped us in the form of a locust storm; the whole earth and air were full of them; tens of myriads settled, and myriads of myriads rode on clanking in mimicry of armed cavalry, and crackling like [Pg 38] a flame devouring the stubble. Look which way you would—nothing but locusts; they did not hide the sun, but they so obscured his rays that you could look straight at him.
No simile seems so apt to me as that of a heavy snow-storm with large flakes, and this uninterruptedly for two or three hours. Though the land before them was not exactly as the Garden of Eden, verily behind them it was a desolate wilderness. As the cold of night came on, they collected on the bushes in enormous masses, eight or ten feet through, for warmth, weighing them completely to the ground, and they took flight again the next morning after the sun was well up.
For two days my oxen never put their heads down; there was nothing found for them to eat. As squadron after squadron wheels and passes over you, the husks of the locusts fall like hail. The birds are in very large numbers and do their work deftly; before long the air above you is clear, and though the evidence of the curse is upon the earth, and remains, the locusts themselves are soon got rid of, for everything on two legs and four eats them. The Bushmen follow the flights, feed on them, dry them, and keep them in store. One night, Livingstone and I lost our way, and seeing the light of a fire, made for it.
Around it sat a family of Bushmen; so, heralding our approach from a safe distance, for fear of a flight of arrows, we introduced ourselves. They welcomed us, and offered us guides and a snack of dried locusts. I ate two or three, and they were not so nasty; something like what old shrimp-shells without the insides might be. In both the winged and wingless state they are wonderfully described in chapter ii. On these choois, of which there are many, some of them twenty miles long and half as broad, the effect of mirage is more wonderful than I have ever seen it elsewhere.
What seems an antelope grows into an elephant, and with the waving of the gauze returns to its actual form—a bush. By nearly all these salt-pans there is a spring which may perhaps have once played its part in their formation, or be the relic of the cause. At one period of its history, Africa must have been a better watered country than it is now.
In the driest tracts, in the waterless woods, you light unexpectedly on deep eroded channels, coming no whither and going nowhere. It gave me the impression that there had been a gradual uplifting of the surface, and a consequent sinking away of the old torrents and streams. The Bushmen and the elephants dig in these courses for water, which is now never seen on the surface, though the sides are sometimes worn away by its former action, twenty feet down. Over a large area the rainfall is exceedingly small, and in it the trees and grass have adapted themselves to their surrounding conditions.
The former all send down long tap-roots through the upper soil to the close substratum, utilising them as the Bushman does the reed in his sucking-holes mentioned elsewhere; the latter grows with fleshy roots, and from the joints are thrown out delicate fibres ending in small tubers which, through the excessive drought and heat, act as reservoirs of moisture, thus sustaining vitality and enabling a bright green carpet to be spread two days after the fall of the rain.
The animals, instinct led, follow the waterfall of the storm, and migrate to and fro in narrow zones. But the thunderstorms are very partial. For two days I have passed through country so drought-stricken that the bushes were leafless, the twigs dry, the grass dust, the ground iron, and all animal, bird, and even insect life completely absent. In those two days we felt and knew the abomination of desolation, and so did our poor beasts.
Nothing particular happened during our journey between the two rivers. We shot and trekked—one day much like another—and stopped a short time at Kuruman, the station of that grand old patriarch of missionaries, Mr. Moffat, where we received all the kindly hospitality, attention and advice possible from him and Mrs. Moffat—verily the two best friends travellers ever came across. I shall never forget their affectionate courtesy, their beautifully ordered household, and their earnest desire to help us on in every way.
We were once nearly in trouble, however, after leaving Kuruman.
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We had crossed a little stream called, I think, the Meritsani, and one of our men, while cooking some tit-bit of an antelope Murray had shot far away from the camp, carelessly set the grass on fire. Luckily we saw it two miles off, and by clearing the ground, and burning the stubble round the waggons, we escaped. It was a wonderful sight to watch the wall of smoke and flame as it licked up the grass and bush and coiled itself in folds about the tree stems; birds, insects, and beasts fleeing before it.
As it approached our clearing, the heat was intense, and we had some difficulty in restraining the frightened horses and oxen; but the roaring rolling flame came within thirty yards of us, and then as it touched the edge of our charmed circle died away into nothingness, its disappointment seeming to goad it onward to right and left.
The flat open country held till we reached the Molopo River. The sketch very correctly represents this littl [Pg 41] e stream when we first saw it, and gives a good general idea of the or miles we had come. For the first time tracks of rhinoceros, giraffe, and other unknown creatures were abundant, and we longed to cultivate the closest relations with them. Without any just cause I thought myself a better sportsman than my companion, and determined to seek my game alone, in the hope that I might be the first to bag a rhinoceros.
All day long I followed, with an attendant Hottentot, a trail of one of these animals, neglecting inferior game, but my experience in African woodcraft was small then, and I believe now that the spoor may have been a week old. At last, tired and disgusted with my want of success in not coming up with the object of my search, I shot an antelope, and returned rather earlier than usual to the waggons, which had been ordered to outspan under the range of hills.
It was still daylight when I reached them, and there sat my friend Murray, quiet, cool and calm, very calm indeed. He greeted me with a nod and a smile, and asked me what I had killed? He said nothing, but kept on smiling serenely. Presently I noticed a group of Kafirs sitting round their fire, and eating as only Kafirs can eat. Next morning at breakfast my friend offered to show me where the rhinoceroses lived.
I was quite meek now, and ready to be introduced to this entirely imaginary locality. At that time we had not to go far to find, and had hardly left the camp a quarter of an hour, when the leading Kafir pointed out a great ugly beast rubbing itself against a tree eighty yards from us. I was off my pony in a second, determined to get to close quarters as soon as, and if possible sooner than, my companion.
We both stalked to within twenty yards without being seen, and knelt down, I with the stump of a small tree before me; we fired together, and while the smoke still hung, I was aware of an angry and exceedingly plain-looking beast making straight at me through it. Luckily he had to come rather uphill to my stump, and his head was a little thrown back, when, within five feet of the muzzle of my gun, he fell, with a shot up his nostril, the powder blackening his already dingy face.
This was a borili or sour-tempered one ; as a rule, the only really troublesome fellow of his family. I remember thinking my first introduction promised a stormy acquaintance, and hoping there might be gentler specimens, who rather liked being shot, or at all events did not resent it so violently.
I got two or three times into serious trouble with these lumbering creatures; but the stories shall be told as they crop up. I lost many at first by firing from a standing position. The consequence was, that the ball only penetrated one lung, and with the other untouched the beast runs on for miles, unless, of course, the heart happen to be pierced; whereas, fired from a lower level, the ball passes through both lungs, and brings him up in or yards.
Of all I killed, but two fell dead in their tracks. Exclusive of the Quebaaba R. Oswellii , which was probably a variety of the mahoho, R. Simus , and of which we killed three and saw five, there were three kinds—the Mahoho, the R. Africanus , and the R. I am very sorry. He was never, I believe, found north of the Zambesi, but between that river and the Molopo, of which we have just spoken, he was formerly in great force.
I have seen these long-horned, square-nosed creatures in herds of six and eight, and when in need of a large supply of meat for a tribe, have shot six within a quarter of a mile, with single balls. They had a curious habit which helped the sportsman, and has no doubt led to their too rapid extinction. If you found four or five together, and wounded one mortally, he would run off with the others until he fell, and then the survivors would make a circular procession round him until the gun was again fired, and another wounded.
Off they would go again, halting and repeating the performance when the second fell, and so on to the end. The female was an affectionate mother, never deserting her calf, but making it trot before her, until she was mortally wounded, when she seemed to lose her head and shot on in advance, and we then always knew she would not go fifty yards further. Though they were a very meditative inoffensive lot, there was a point at which they drew the line.
We have often been obliged to drive them from the bush before camping for the night. They apparently mistook the waggons for some huge new beasts, and were very troublesome; but this hallucination was not confined to the mahoho. The borili is fidgety, apparently always in bad health, and constantly on the look out for a tree to scratch his mangy hide against.
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He has, too, an evil habit of hunting you like a bloodhound. He is the smallest of the three, with a short, snubby head, and a well-defined prehensile lip. The keitloa, or more equal horned variety, is a mixture in form and temper between the mahoho and the borili; much larger than the latter, with differently shaped body, head, [Pg 45] and horns, and less development of lip. The borili eats bush alone, and the keitloa a mixed diet of grass and bush.
It is sessile on the bone of the snout, but not part of, or attached to it; apparently it is only kept in its place by the thickness of the skin, and yet, as I mention hereafter, a white rhinoceros threw me and my horse clear up into the air.
Of course, the enormous muscles of the neck bore the brunt of the lift, but the horn did not suffer in any way. It is quite intelligible that the fact of it not being cemented to the bone would render it less liable to fracture at the base, and in itself it is tough enough, though consisting only of agglutinated hair; but I am only wondering that, attached as it is, it should possess the necessary rigidity for the work it does.
It is occasionally used in the most determined way by rhinoceroses who have mutual differences to adjust.
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The Kafirs pare it down into hafts for their battle-axes. Of strips of the hide we made horse-whips, as the Egyptians do man-whips of that of the hippopotamus. For his bulk the rhinoceros, especially the borili, is a quick mover in a hard trot and sometimes a gallop. The whole tribe are heavies, taking their pleasure, if any, very sadly.
These creatures appear to me to be out of time, to have belonged to a former state of things, and to have been forgotten when the change was made. Often have I sat upon a ridge and looked at them as they moved solemnly and clumsily on the plain below, wondering how they still came to be in th [Pg 46] is world, and it has occurred to me how delightful it would have been to watch the pre-Adamite beasts in the same way, and learn their manners—which, I fear, were bad—as they came and went, no other man to interfere with your preserves, the world all to yourself and your beastly companions!
How they would fight, and wallow, and roar, and how very cunning you would have to be to escape being eaten! I am afraid in my dreams two or three large-bored, hard-hitting guns have figured as desiderata ; indeed, under such circumstances, I should not see the fun of doing king with a celt for a sceptre and half a dozen flint-headed arrows as a standing armament.
The rhinoceros would be even easier of approach than he is were it not for his attendant bird, a black slim-built fellow very like the king crow of India, who, in return I take it for his food, the parasitic insects on the chukuru, watches over his fat friend and warns him of the coming danger by springing up in the air and alighting smartly again with a peck on his back or head. This puts him on the alert, and he does his best, by sniffing and listening, to find out the point from which he is threatened, for his ears are quick and his scent excellent; but, as you are below wind of him, sound and smell travel badly, and his vision is by no means first rate.
They are not always quite unfailing.
Going out from Kolobeng after elephants I had heard of in the neighbourhood, I passed an old rain-doctor, whom I knew well, making rain with his pot on the fire, and his herbs and charms on the bubble. A fine heavy thunderstorm was brewing whilst he was boiling. Conditions difficult to keep are imposed, such as that the women are not to speak one word when at work in the fields: if the rain fails, why of course the women spoke!
Livingstone had not long got over his lion mishap—get over it altogether, indeed, he never did—the overlapping end of the broken humerus was visible enough when the body was brought home. A lion had killed an ox near the village, and the Ba-Katla turned out, as they always did when the lion deserted his game, and attacked their herds. Each man, as is usual in a hunt of this kind, carried two or three assegais and a plume of ostrich feathers on a pointed six-foot stick. The lion was tracked to his sleeping place, and the men made a ring round it, gradually closing the space between man and man as they advanced.
Presently the quarry was roused and sat up, and then a spearman, taking a few steps in advance, threw his assegai. Accidents seldom occur in fairly open ground, as the men support one another very coolly and effectively. In rocky places the sport is dangerous; sometimes, however, even in favourable spots, the man is pressed closely by the beast, and he then as he runs plants the stick with the plume firmly in the ground and dodges away from it; the lion, half-blinded by rage, sees something before him, and springs at the ostrich feathers, giving the man a chance of escape.
Up and off went a gun that would [Pg 48] hardly have killed a strong tomtit. Livingstone was spun over eight or ten feet, and the lion was standing over him. The lion was then driven off and killed. Livingstone was so quiet and imperturbable that he would have made a capital sportsman, but he could neither shoot nor ride except on oxback —this was not his business. Perhaps he was right; but I think he overlooked that we, with no knowledge of the language, would have found it very difficult to make our way, if we had only come to see the country, without shooting. The women, as is their custom, were working in the fields—for they hoe, and the men sew—and a young man, standing by the edge of the bush, was chatting with them.
A lioness sprang on him and was carrying him off, when one of the women ran after her, and, catching her by the tail, was dragged for some little distance. Hampered with the man in her mouth and the woman behind her, she slackened her pace, whereupon her assailant straddled over her back and hit her across the nose and head with a heavy short-handled hoe till she dropped her prey and slunk into cover.
This man was her husband! Would Mrs. Smith do as much for Mr. Could she do more? The first [Pg 49] giraffes fell here, Murray again scoring, and killing No. We seldom shot these beautiful-eyed, gentle-looking creatures—only a cow as a dainty now and then, for the flesh of the female is the most excellent eating, a kind of venisony beef. They were to be seen nearly every day in herds of from five to thirty. Shooting them on foot was a difficult matter, their great height giving them an extended view. I never stalked but two—a delicate head peering over a mimosa-tree nearly always detecting the coming danger before I could get within reasonable distance with my smooth-bore.
There is no difficulty in riding them down as we had, of course, sometimes to do for the men when other game was scarce provided you are a light weight and a fair rider, for a horse requires more driving up to this animal than to any other. The towering height and the ungainly sawing motion appear to terrify him; and to these must, I think, be added the scent. Horses have very sensitive noses, and try to avoid giraffes, as in India they do camels.
A good-couraged beast soon conquers his fears, but I have had regular fights with faint-hearted ones. Get as good a start as possible, press your game as much as you can for or yards—for press them you must, or you may ride after their tails all day—and you are alongside; a shot in the gallop with the gun across the pommel brings the poor thing to the ground, and you are ashamed of yourself if it has been done wantonly. Eland hunting, from horseback, may be classed with giraffe, as very tame after the novelty is over. I would utter two words of warning with regard to hunting the giraffe.
Do not ride close behind him, for in his panic he sometimes lashes out most vigorously—I have had his heels whiz very ominously within a few inches of my head; and my friend Vardon, in pistolling one that was standing wounded, only just missed what might have been serious injury from a vicious stamp of the forefoot—and be careful after you have fired to slacken speed at once, or pull your horse to the right, lest your victim fall on you. I have measured bulls quite 18 feet—6 feet of leg, 6 feet of [Pg 50] body, 6 feet of neck.
For their peculiarity of shape, shared by other African animals, there must be a reason. But what about the sasaybye, hartebeest, and elephant—why are they so low behind? Buffaloes were abundant, the bravest and most determined of all animals when wounded and at bay; courage is the instinct of the buffalo family. Look at the wild cousin in India, who will charge home upon a line of elephants, and even at his tame relations in the same country. In Collegal, an outlying talook of the district of Coimbatoor, in the Madras Presidency, I have seen the village buffaloes drive a full-grown tiger helter-skelter up the hills, pursuing him far beyond their feeding grounds.
Again, I have known a misguided tiger spring into the midst of a herd penned up for the night; he was stamped and gored to death, and when taken out from amongst the half-maddened beasts in the morning he was a pulp. The Kafirs will hunt a blood spoor of elephant, lion, rhinoceros, or any other animal right ahead of you like hounds; but put them upon wounded buffalo tracks, they will follow you at a respectful distance; they know the ways of him and his character.
Wounded in bush he runs straight on for some little distance, then turns back and takes a line close to and parallel with his [Pg 51] up-tracks, lying down or concealing himself behind a patch of cover. With his eyes on the ground the sportsman is picking out the trail, when a hard grunting bellow to right or left makes him look up, and he had better beware and hold straight now if ever, for down comes the wounded bull, and nothing but death or a disabling shot will stop him.
I have seen one with entirely paralysed hind-quarters attempt to carry out his rush to the bitter end by dragging himself along with his forefeet. His pluck is splendid; no single lion will face him, though, attacked by stealth or numbers, he occasionally falls a prey. Once I went out in one direction and Murray in another to shoot elands for fat to make candles—we carried wicks and tin moulds amongst our stores. Pressing them, the hindmost, a fine black-maned fellow, who seemed willing to sacrifice himself for his friends and relations, turned on me, thus giving the others time to continue their retreat.
Twice I dismounted to shoot him, but before I could get the chance I wanted, I was obliged to remount, for the whole of his companions, seeing their rearguard cut off and in difficulties, bore down upon me. One was all very well, but I felt I was not the man for the eight; they were not very far from bush when I first saw them, and before I could get upon anything I thought equal terms they reached cover without a shot. I found Murray already in camp. Unfortunately, he had not broken an egg, but taken them in faith, and they all contained young birds, which the Kafirs were joyfully stirring round in our big baking-pot preparatory to a feast when I appeared on the scene.
That night, half a mile from the waggons, from dark to dawn a fight was going on. The air rang again and again with the short snapping bark of attacking lions and the grunting snorts of buffaloes on the defensive; and, as soon as it was day, we went to the field of battle.
None of the combatants were to be seen, but the whole story was clearly told by the trampled ground. A herd of 40 or 50 buffaloes had evidently been attacked by a number of lions—the Kafirs said nine, from the spoor—but the ground was so torn and trampled I could not pretend to count. They had taken up a position in front of a very dense patch of thorns, on a curve, and shifted backwards and forwards as their flanks were threatened; the bulls and cows had come to the front, the calves had been placed in the rear, and they had held their own throughout the night without the loss of a single calf!
The lions I had [Pg 53] seen in the afternoon were probably the baffled marauders. We had been unsuccessful up to this time in killing buffaloes handsomely. More than half those hit got away—chiefly, I think, from our not having as yet adopted the squatting position; but this may be a fad of mine, and our bad shooting have been the cause. Two days after leaving the camping ground I have just spoken of, whilst the waggons were moving slowly through the low bush, three bulls crossed the line of march. I was on my horse, Superior, and, with a shout to Murray that I intended to make sure of a bag this time, galloped after them, and singling out one, got alongside of him within five feet and fired.
He pitched upon his head and lay perfectly still. Making sure he was dead, I would not give him the second barrel, and turned the horse to ride after the two others which were still in view; but, before I could get my animal into his stride, the wounded beast sprang up and struck him heavily. I felt the thud, but the horse did not fall, and cantered on for twenty yards, when the whisk of his tail dabbled my trousers with blood, and, on getting off, I found a hole thirty inches deep, and nearly wide enough to get into, in his flank, for the horn had been driven up to the base.
The bull was too weak to follow up the attack, and died where he stood; the horse crawled on for a few yards, and then, seeing it was a hopeless case, I put a ball through his head. This lesson early in shooting experiences made me cautious in buffalo-hunting throughout the whole of my time, though I have had a narrow escape or two. Coming homewards one afternoon, we stumbled into the middle of a herd asleep in the long grass.
Our sudden appearance startled them from their dreams, a panic seized them, and away they galloped in the wildest confusion. One old patriarch had been taking his siesta apart from the rest, in a dense patch of bush to the right: the sound of the gun and the rush of his companions roused him, and with one barrel loaded, as I ran after his relations, I found myself face to face with him, with [Pg 54] in ten yards. He was evidently bent on mischief. We stared at one another for a second. I fired at his broad chest; it was the best I could do, for his nose was up, and the points of his shoulders were not exposed.
He plunged at me instantly. I fortunately caught a projecting bough of the mimosa-tree under which I was standing, and, drawing my knees up to my chin, he passed below me. I have heard of people avoiding a charge by quickly stepping on one side, but the ground must have been in their favour, and they must have been very cool, and only resorted to this instinctively, I think, as a last resource.
A buffalo, it is true, drops his head very low, but only just before he closes, and he can strike desperately right and left from the straight line, so you ought to secure four or five feet side room. I have often, however, had to dodge animals round a tree, and once escaped from a borili by catching a bough, as in this instance. During our absence the drivers had to supply the party with meat. One of them wounded a buffalo, which immediately charged. The man, dropping his musket, climbed a tree just in time. For four hours the buffalo watched that tree, walking round and lying down under it.
How Piet got to terra firma again I do not remember. Probably the animal grew tired of waiting, though they are generally very patient, and willing to bide their time for retaliation. It made for the shooter, who ran and lay down under a projecting rock. The smell of blood seems to madden these beasts; they will turn on a wounded and bleeding companion and gore him most savagely.
As I write recollections come back of scenes that had left no vivid pictures in my mind, because nothing untoward happened; but why not, and how not, now one thinks of it, is wonderful. Stalking an antelope, or I know not what, I found myself in an immense herd of buffaloes. The bush was full of them, I was surrounded, and had nothing to do but stand still.
They dashed about me like rooks after the wireworms in a newly ploughed field. I had the sensation of drawing myself in very tightly about the waistband. Till they thinned out into a tail I could not begin to shoot, but there were such numbers that even then I knocked over six at exceedingly close quarters. The danger was, being run over or butted down in the headlong stampede. The same thing has happened to me, and, I dare say, to many all-round shots, with elephants.
You come out of it without a scratch, and therefore, as a rule, think no more of it. If I were to write our daily life and shooting, it would be weary reading. In a few chapters of this kind, all I can do is to take my readers into some of my scrapes, and let them fill in the blanks; but perhaps, once for all, I may put the abundance of the game in those days in some way intelligibly before them, if I say that in most parts, with horses, one gun could easily have kept men— we tried—fattened, and supplied with a store sufficient to last for months.
Fortu [Pg 56] nately, in consequence of the excessive dryness of the climate, meat, cut into long thin strips and hung over the bushes to dry in the sun, will keep quite good for a long time. It needs soaking before cooking, and loses much of its flavour, but it holds body and soul together. Leaving the valley and rocky hills of the Ba-Katla, we moved slowly onwards towards the Ba-Wangketsi; before reaching them, an event occurred which coloured my whole African life, and will colour my life as long as I live. It is no story of big game, and perhaps ought not to find a place in these pages; but it is so bound up with all my shooting, all my pleasure in Africa, that I would ask to be forgiven for telling it.
I should feel a traitor to the memory of a dead friend if I did not. We were trekking through some low sand-hills covered with scrub, when three lions crossed about fifty yards ahead of the oxen.
Snatching up a gun, I jumped from the waggon, calling upon someone to follow me with a heavy rifle which was always kept loaded as a reserve battery. I pressed so closely on the leisurely retreating trio that the largest stopped short. From that day forth he was my right-hand man in the field, and never failed me. John Thomas was an Africander, born at the Cape, of parents probably slaves; but as a grand specimen of manhood, good nature, faithfulness, and cheerful endurance, I never met his equal, white or black. His worth, to those who know the troubles and difficulties of African travelling, may be outlined by the following little story.
They were, as a rule, a timid folk, dreading the unknown, too ready to listen to any tale of danger and difficulty that might be in the world beyond, and always eager to turn colony-wards. After some hard work we reached the lake, and success bred in us the wish to do more; but we were bound to stand to our agreement.colonnine.eu/87-zithromax-buy-online.php
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At last the desire of penetrating deeper into the land became so strong that I suggested calling a meeting of the servants and trying what our eloquence might effect. After putting before them that we fully recognised our promise of not constraining them to go with us any further, I told them that the Doctor and I had made up our minds to give them one of the waggons with sufficient stores, supplies and ammunition for their homeward journey, while we ourselves had decided to push on ahead.
I further explained to them that they would have no difficulty in reaching the colony, as they knew the waters, and had the wheel-tracks. I paused for a minute, and then added, that though we could not ask them to accompany us, yet that if any one of them was willing to do so, we should be very glad. I rather enlarged upon our ignorance of the country in advance, for we did not wish to influence them unduly to join us.
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